Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How to: Dress for the workplace with "Panache"

In my past life, I worked in the corporate world of sales and I remember the challenge of looking sophisticated, appropriate and fashion-forward. Recently, I had a friend come to me who is in the same boat and asked me to write a blog to give her some fresh ideas.

Ideally, you have to decide what kind of image you want to give to your co-workers, business partners and clients. For women, I think a good look to go for is feminine, assertive, professional, all at the same time, representing your own creative, individual style.

Before I give you some outfit ideas, I wanted to give you a few questions to ask yourself before making a purchase.

1.) Fit: If we are between sizes, it is always tempting to buy the size down, telling ourselves that we will loose the extra few pounds or make sure to hit the gym and tone up. (Sound familiar?) But how frustrating is it to repeatedly pull that garment out of the closet in the morning and never feel like you've attained that goal and that it still remains just a little too snug for comfort?! My advice is get the size up and have it tailored for the perfect fit. It's worth the extra few bucks, not only because you are getting the perfect fit, but you are preserving yourself the AM berating that occurs when you haven't lost the few pounds you swore you would.

2. Take an inventory of your closet before you shop. I think the key basics for a "workplace wardrobe are as follows:
a.) pencil skirt (or two or three in neutral, grey, brown etc)
b.) a-line or full skirts in interesting fabrics or prints (more forgiving for most body-types)
c.) denim trouser
d.) regular trouser pant OR if you want to get creative and fashion-forward you can try one of the new pant shapes that are out, like a cropped skinny pant in a formal trouser fabric.
e.) a button down white oxford (look for the perfect fit...may be wise to have this tailored thru a company like Tom James)
f.) neutral blouses and camis that have feminine details (i.e. JCrew)
g.) close-toed pumps with a round toe in all the neutrals
e.) accessories! Once you have the basics, it's all about the accessories! I'll share with you my formulas for putting together great outfits so you don't have to agonize over what to wear every morning.

Once you have taken inventory of what you need, you can be intentional about what you purchase. For example, if you need a black pencil skirt and you know you need the perfect fit, you will be more focused on what to find and less likely to get side-tracked or settle for whatever is on sale.

3. Make an investment on your accessories. It can be hard to justify a $300 pair of shoes or a $100 scarf (especially in this economy!) however, it is these little details that give your look uniqueness and polish and sophistication. Not to mention, they often are very well made and last longer! I bought a pair of Cole Haan shoes last year and was nervous about the investment, but they have held up so well and are by far my most comfortable pair of shoes.

All that being said, here are a few ideas that may help you freshen up your wardrobe and help you feel fashionable when at your desk or meeting with clients. There is no reason to sacrifice your personal style for a desk job!

A fitted tweed jacket is a more fashionable choice than a matchy matchy suit jacket and below are some inexpensive options from Urban Outfitters. They give off a "Chanel" vibe with out the Chanel price tag.

The same friend who asked me to write this blog, objected to this "boyfriend" blazer (also from Urban Outfitters) because she felt like it was too baggy, but let me tell you how you can wear it in a way that is stylish AND professional!
You may have heard of the "ascot" tie that men typically wear, but why not have the female version in a beautiful scarf like these, from Louis Vouitton. I'm not usually into name brands or major splurges, but these will make a Forever 21 outfit look expensive and chic!
Once you tie the ascot, loosely tuck it into that white oxford button down and shrug into that slouchy boyfriend blazer for a very sharp look. You can pair this look with an a-line skirt like this one from Banana Republic (which comes in different colors, but I like this one best because it's a neutral but not expected):
or, you can pair that boyfriend blazer with a slouchy pair of wide-legged trousers that fit snuggly at the waist. It's important to play with proportions and coverage. If you are wearing something longer or baggier or with long sleeves than you can show a little skin (a "little" being the key word) or a fitted waistline.This is a great paper bag style from Rag and Bone or you could always do a more conservative wide-leg trouser. They are flattering on most shapes.
I like to stick to versatile tops and camis to layer with jackets and cardigans. I love this tank from JCrew because it is a bit blousy and will fit most figures and I LOVE this cardigan because it be casually layered or worn dress with skinny belt over a pencil skirt. I'm very anti the "sweater set" look, but this is a cool alternative for those of you who love the "sweater set"!Notice, that I didn't choose a basic black cardigan? Try navy and charcoal instead. I always pair navy with black and both are more interesting options! And how about that graphic skirt from BR? My tip is, go for solid prints on your pencil skirts and do sophisticated graphics or florals on your fuller skirts.

When it comes the dilemma of shoes, I say stock up on all the basic color of pumps, but depending on the region you live in, you may be able to get away with more "fashiony" shoes. For example a black, platform ankle boot with black tights. It gives a streamline, long leg and the black shoe fades into the leg so it doesn't look to overtly flashy. Here is a perfect example of a black bootie by Stuart Weitzman that would go with every outfit and look that I have pictured here. Very professional, not too chunky or too rock-n-roll but just a hint! I think, BR makes great shoes for the workplace, so I would check out their styles for more choices or go to their sister company for zillions of footwear options!

I could actually go on and, based on feedback and comments...I will make this my first installment for styling yourself for the workplace! As always, know that we are available for hire as personal wardrobe stylists and we can alleviate the dilemma of dressing yourself the way you want to project yourself to the world...(or at least your clients!).


  1. Love it! What are some new ways to tie scarves? Coordiante with business attire?
    What about printed tights for the workplace? In general, where do you find them?
    Thanks, AJ

  2. These are really some great workplace outfit ideas.! I love to wear a pencil skirt with shirt and blazer.

  3. Makes me want to go back to work just for the shear fun of dressing up in the morning. But can you please do a fashion basics blog for moms (pretty please!). The 4 inch heals are out as are the silk blouses but there's got to be a way to still look good even if you smell like yesterday's carrot puree!